From child soldier to LSE Master’s student
For Atem Kuek, the opportunity to study at an overseas university was far from a realistic option growing up. Atem, who was born two years before the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983, shares his journey from a displaced child and child soldier in Sudan to a master’s student at LSE, and how his experiences have fuelled his desire to help others.
Atem and his family were forced to flee their village after the Bor Massacre of 1991, which claimed the lives of thousands of civilians. What followed was a gruelling six years during which Atem lived as a displaced child and then a child soldier – teenage boys were prohibited from leaving the country as they were expected to form the seedbed of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
It was not until 1997, after peace talks created a narrow window for ceasefires in some parts of the country, that Atem and some of his fellow child soldiers were able to escape, fleeing to Kenya where they registered as refugees. It was here that Atem was able to receive a proper education, beginning the journey that would lead him into aid work and, eventually, to LSE.
After deciding he wanted to learn more about the theoretical side of humanitarian work, Atem applied to the School through its scholarship programme for students from Sub-Saharan Africa, and was accepted to study for an MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. Atem believes that helping others in this way is his true calling:
I grew up in the same crisis, so I understand the suffering in people’s faces. I’m sitting here today as a student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, but 20 years ago I was a refugee child, running from fear and war”, he says. “Someone like me should do what they can to pay back.
And paying back he is. Atem has thrown himself into his course and is also heavily involved with the Programme for African Leadership, sponsored by alumnus Firoz Lalji (BSc Economics 1969) whose generous philanthropic support also includes scholarships for African nationals. As part of the programme, Atem and his colleagues took part in a competition where they pitched projects to help development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Atem’s group pitched the winning idea – a plan aiming to improve girls’ reproductive rights in Zimbabwe with the help of technology as a storytelling tool. Their idea will now be implemented by a partner organisation in Zimbabwe and the group are currently busy writing scripts for animated videos which will be shown in schools to highlight issues such as child marriage and pregnancy.
Looking to the future, Atem hopes experiences like this and his studies at LSE will complement his practical knowledge as an aid worker and equip him with the best set of skills to help people in South Sudan – something he wants to get back to doing as soon as his exams are over. “Even years later with an independent South Sudan, masses of ordinary people continue to follow my troubled footpath. It’s my dream that this must change,” he says.
Queen’s Young Leaders Award Winner
LSE undergraduate Yi Jun Mock is another student making an impact. Yi Jun, a Politics and International Relations student, received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award in June 2018.
This prestigious award celebrates exceptional young people aged 18 to 29 from across the Commonwealth. Yi Jun, aged 20, will receive the honour in recognition of his work in Singapore supporting young people to pursue their ambitions in vocational employment.
Yi Jun founded Advisory, an online platform, with the aim of providing young Singaporeans with the opportunity to learn about different career options through access to resources and interviews with professionals.
“Contemporary education systems prepare students well for exams, but don’t always sufficiently equip them with the support they need to make informed decisions about their futures,” he says. “Helping young people gain equal opportunity to succeed in life is a cause I am passionate about, because I believe everyone, whatever their birthplace or socio-economic status might be, deserves a chance to fulfil their dreams and lead meaningful lives.” Most recently, Yi Jun had the chance to present Advisory to Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.
I’m really grateful to have been selected to receive a Queen’s Young Leaders Award. It’s a huge honour to become part of such an inspiring group of young people working to make a difference in their communities, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how I can do better in the work that I do.
Yi Jun Mock
Yi Jun, who was also Vice-President of the LSESU United Nations Society, currently serves as Project Leader (Networks) of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network-Youth and is a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community. On top of these commitments, he has also represented LSE internationally, winning an Honourable Mention in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Foreign Affairs Magazine Undergraduate Essay Competition. He was the Department of International Relation’s nominee to attend the 58th United States Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, where his paper was selected as the Runner-Up International Delegate Paper.
In December 2018, Yi Jun was selected for one of the world’s most prestigious graduate fellowships, located at Schwarzman College in Tsinghua University, Beijing. He is one of 147 scholars selected from over 2,800 applicants worldwide to be part of the Schwarzman Scholars Class of 2020. Find out more here.